I think forums tend to flourish when there is common ground amongst the membership. I think this holds true for 'traditional' forums like this one, and for the 'new' social media groups. The more niche the topic, the more depth there is to the discussion.
That's probably why major news announcements go unremarked here: this isn't a current affairs group. Our common ground is cashback and related money-saving tips, and it feels like there isn't much to discuss at the moment.
Another factor is that social media has encroached on, and some cases replaced, the role of the long-form forum for communication. Social media groups are much more accessible than web forums like this one. New topics and responses are literally delivered to my hand with a little beep to announce their arrival. It takes barely seconds to read, and acknowledge, them. Facebook and (I think) Twitter even work out which comments are likely to be more interesting to me, based on my previous behaviour.
Social media however tends to encourage shorter responses. Hence the amount of insults. It's much easier to just dismiss someone's contrary opinion than it is to write a rebuttal and explanation. Especially when you're doing it with your thumb from a moving vehicle. Forums like these tend to better suit lengthy notes (like this one!) just because you're already sat at a proper keyboard and have invested time and effort just to navigate to the topic.
In the case of iMutual, I think we're seeing a combination of factors.
- Firstly there is slicker competition with phone/tablet friendly websites. This is how people operate now, an app is almost de rigeur. That has pulled people away.
- There is also less to talk about in terms of cashback and money-saving, so why bother to visit the forum?
- Discussion on other topics (sport, politics, etc) occurs on social media now, where it is faster and easier. Why come here to air your concerns about the FA transfer window when you can do so to a wider or more interested audience on Facebook?
- As participant numbers dwindle, we enter a downward spiral with only certain topics generating interest and the same people making the same comments each time. The forum becomes more of a clique with references to previous comments and in-jokes, making it harder for new participants to join in.
I think we have to change something in the above in order to revive this forum, and possibly the same is true of other 'traditional' forums like this.